Yesterday as I was working on research I had another one of these serendipitous moments (which I will describe in a second) and it got me thinking. There's been a lot of talk lately about social search and the future of search and it just dawned on me that this thing I had affectionately called social media serendipity really just is the result of a passive social search. I call it passive because in the cases described here, I didn't actively seek out any information from my social networks. I simply received pertinent information from my networks without actually asking for it. Nevertheless I do think it qualifies as search since I am constantly scanning those networks for relevant information through the various feeds I am subscribing to. I've always viewed social search exclusively as an active process (such as outsourcing your questions to your Twitter followers), but I think that definition may need to be broadened to include serendipitous, passive social searches such as the following:
- A few months ago, one of the people I follow on Twitter shared an interesting article with his followers. Since the article seemed relevant to research I am working on, I bookmarked it and set it aside to read at a later point (an example of a passive social search through Twitter)
- As I read it last week, I annotated it with additional research questions. I noted that it would be nice to know how many of the videos uploaded to YouTube each month actually reached more than 1,000 or 10,000 views.
- The next day, one of the Del.icio.us users I follow bookmarked an article in Slate Magazine that answered that exact question (another example of a passive social search, this time through social bookmarks)
- Yesterday after I had finished writing up the section of my paper that deals with these stats, I checked my feed reader only to find that I had a new item in the folder labeled research. The new item wasn't relevant to the research I had worked on that day, but the one above it, which I had marked as "keep new" was (I do that when a feed sounds interesting but I don't have the time to review it). This is how I stumbled upon a paper from HP's Social Computing lab on the success dynamics of 10 million YouTube videos - a perfect fit for my research and another example of a passive social search.
Update 7/27: A day after I published this post, ReadWriteWeb wrote a post using the active versus passive social search framework I outlined here. I'm not sure I completely agree with their search discovery continuum though - I think "friends & following" is just as important at the passive discovery side of the continuum, especially since our passive discoveries are filtered by our decisions on who to follow and friend.